Why do others care more that I'm single than I do? Why can others not accept that I am 26 and happily single? Why do my peers walk on eggshells with relationship news? I don't have to be in a relationship to be happy for you and celebrate with you.
Do I want a relationship sometimes? Yes, of course. Am I lonely? Occasionally yes, but not because I am not in a relationship. I am lonely because I just moved back to my hometown after living elsewhere for 10 years. So yeah, I am still working on building my community again. I don't need a date for Valentine's day or weddings. Even in high school I didn't need a date for prom or dances. I spent Valentine's weekend with my high school roommate exploring Atlanta and no romantic Valentines could have topped that. I think twice before going up to catch the bouquet at a wedding. I do not want to be the next one to get married and I don't even know that I will be married.
Things I love about being single (and will be hard to top being in a relationship again): I LOVE living by myself - it's an introverts heaven. I have my own space where nobody will interrupt. All cleanliness and messes are due solely to me - I can be annoyed at or congratulate myself. Scheduling for my own life is difficult enough and I don't have to work around anyone else's schedule. I love being me. That's not to say you cannot be yourself in a relationship but we all naturally change in our relationships (romantic, family or friends). I can and have to take care of myself. I am not and cannot be dependent on someone else. (Please note - being dependent is different from relying or leaning on someone else. We all need people to rely and lean on at times. Life is not a solo activity.)
Being single has allowed me to travel and experience the world and myself in ways that I would never have been able to otherwise. I have spent 3 semesters abroad, worked 4 summers at an incredible camp, and lived for 2 years in a rural village in Tanzania. Relationships have been in and out of my life in that time but I have chosen travel and a new adventure over staying every time. I am not ready to stay put and I haven't figured out how to keep adventuring with someone. These solo adventures have made me who I am.
At the end of college I had a realization that has been freeing. I can do life on my own.
I can do life on my own.
I don't need a relationship to survive. I don’t have to be dependent on someone else. My happiness is not dependent on another person. Every goal I have, including having a family, I can do myself. The beautiful part about this is that I am not afraid to do life on my own. I have colleagues, friends, and family to rely and lean on. I am comfortable and confident being single which means when I am in a relationship, it's because I have chosen that relationship not out of necessity or desperation but because it makes me a better, happier person; because it adds value and joy to my life.
The relationship I choose to take on, if I choose to take one on, will make me a better, happier person. We will share life but continue our own paths. I am a fiercely independent person and I don't want to give that up. I'm not sure I could if I wanted to. The relationship I choose to give up being single for will make me a better person. It will push me to be more social in comfortable ways. It will provide someone to lean on and allow me to be leaned on as well, in healthy ways. The relationship I choose adds value and joy.
About a month ago I started listening to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. I have been surprised by the amount of content in the book that has not been new, but rather put words to how I have thought of myself for a while now.
I have known since high school that I have no need to be the center of the social circle. I went to high school dances because everyone went (that's what happens when you are in small or residential high school programs), not out of a particular desire of my own. In college when I had the option to live by myself I quickly took it and only went back to having a roommate because I wanted to. But I was cautious about living on my own. I knew that not having a roommate would make it extremely easy for me to become of hermit. I also knew that by junior year, when I was making that decision, I had friends who would come drag me out if I did not come out often enough.
I applied to be an RA in high school and college and never got the position with the exception of being a sophomore advisor. I knew that I would not the ideal candidate for the job - I am not the outgoing social butterfly who will know every resident by the end of move-in day. Sophomore advisors live on hall in addition to the RA and are a resource for freshman as they get adjusted to college life and living in a dorm for the first time. I loved working with resident life. While I dreaded meetings and events because they had to have 5 ice breakers and a check-in before we could get down to business, the people who were part of resident life are amazing. I may not naturally fit into that world, but I enjoyed being for part of it for that year. I joined resident life to be a better me. I knew that the social skills that made someone a great RA were important, especially in networking and finding your place when communities are not a given as they are in college. My ability to act like an extrovert is largely due to choosing those roles in college and working summer camp for four summers. Looking back, I am glad I was not an RA but I am also glad that I was a sophomore advisor and camp counselor for four summers. I would not be as comfortable putting myself in new groups and communities without those experiences and the skills learned from them.
What I didn't know until after college was how much more I could gain from living into my introverted side. Isolation is a big challenge for many Peace Corps volunteers because we live in often remote villages without any other expats in our communities. While the community of volunteers in my region was a major source of support during my service, I never felt isolated at site. I loved living by myself and spending ridiculous amounts of time alone in my house. I would go whole weekends with my only social interactions being going out to buy a soda mid-afternoon because I forced myself to go outside once a day. Until Peace Corps, I had not identified alone time as an essential for recharging. With so much time alone (and loving every minute of it) I started recognizing how exhausting being in groups of people is for me. As my Peace Corps service progressed I bowed out of social time more often at trainings - opting to go to bed early, take a power nap during lunch, or getting up early to take a long shower.
Honoring my need to recharge alone back home in the US has been a challenge. Having been unavailable for basically everything for two years I feel more obligated to catch up with and spend time with friends and family. That's part of why I decided to move back to my hometown. There is so much more stuff to fill my time with here in the US. I miss having those solitary weekends where the only thing I had to accomplish was washing clothes (and that doesn't even take 2 hours anymore!).
I came back to an extroverted job - Teaching middle/high school I am surrounded by people clamoring for my attention for 7+ hours every weekday and for some reason I still leave school and surround myself with more people in the evenings at least two of those days. It's exhausting. I have over scheduled myself more times than I care to admit this school year. There have been many weekend where I have basically hid in my apartment during the weekend, attached to the couch and binge watching something because my social battery is beyond drained. To the point where going out for meals was more than I could handle. Those weekends are emergency self-care; me at my worst because I have failed to meet my need to recharge earlier.
I have a long way to go in finding the right balance of finding community without exhausting myself or neglecting my low battery warnings. But I know that balance is further to the introverted side than it ever has been in the US before now.
The simplicity movement in America right now is amusing as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In lots of ways simplicity has been forced on me. No machines, no driving, no running water. I haul all my own water upstairs or inside from the balcony during rainy season. All dishes are washed by hand. All clothes, sheets, towels, and everything else are washed by hand. I mop my floor with a wet towel. To get around the village I walk or ride my bike. My morning commute is just over 20 minutes by foot through fields of corn and sunflowers during rainy season, sand and thorns during dry season.
I teach with a notebook of handwritten notes, a blackboard, and chalk. There are no handouts, no worksheets, not enough textbooks for every student. The notes they copy are their textbook. The only copies are of exams. There are no manipulatives, real or virtual. The classrooms are too bright for any projection to be seen. Lab supplies are limited and space virtually none existent.
If I want a meal I cook it from fresh ingredients. If I want bread I bake it myself - I can buy loaves but they are molding within a couple days. To have drinking water I have first boiled it, let it cool, and poured it into a filter to drip through. I have no ingredients that require refrigeration or are not locally grown.
Anywhere I walk in the vil I pass herds of cows and goats and occasionally pig pens. The road through dirt. The paths I walk turn to rivers after a storm.
I do not have enough internet access to keep up with the news much less waste time on Netflix or Buzzfeed. I have read 40 books in the last 19 months. I have gotten hooked on podcasts to keep up somewhat on the news and make the trek to school more interesting.
So watching the new years resolutions about slowing down, walking more, cooking with fresh ingredients… that is not simplifying my life, that is my life. The amount of stuff needed for life in America is daunting. A new phone and cell plan, furniture, clothes for various occasions - casual, professional, formal, sleep, workout, etc - and shoes to go with them. A computer, a tablet, a television. A car. I can only hope that in returning to the US I maintain some of the simplicity that has come to dominate my life. That I continue to read a lot. To take a weekly day away from technology. To cook most nights and with fresh ingredients, not from a box. On the other hand I will gladly take back running water, drinkable tap water, hot showers that do not require waiting for the water to heat first and a washer/dryer.
There are days I think I am having a huge impact. There are many days when I feel like I am making no impact or not enough impact or not the right impact. And almost every day I have at least one moment of believing I cannot make an impact.
Today instead of debate the students had a discussion about why students fail the form 4 national exam (basically high school exit exam). Besides prostitution being brought up (I do not think I have beard a debate the did not mention prostitution) it was nice to see students recognizing some of the barriers to their education and success. There was a fair amount of blame put on poverty (another common theme) but otherwise the discussion focused on the faults of the students.
First of all these kids have overcome a lot just to get to secondary school and overcome a lot to be in secondary school. Many of the students walk 10+ kilometers to get to school every day. They struggle to understand me because the language of instruction changes from Swahili in primary school to English in secondary school. The most discipline I do in the classroom is closing notebooks from other subjects or threatening not to teach when the class is chatty (I have never had to follow through on that threat).
Yet the majority of this discussion was about student laziness (and characteristics/ behaviors of lazy students) and truancy and other things students need to do better. Now I will not deny that these things hurt their grades, that is not the first thing or things I would list as reasons that students fail. There are many systemic issues that cause huge barriers for students.
This week began with some harsh reminders of some of the barriers. A form 4 girl had run away because she is pregnant. To be honest I would run away too. She will be expelled from school and potentially/probably kicked out of her home too. Her opportunities to return to school are very few and probably expensive. Another pair of students were caught leaving home in their school uniforms only to change clothes and spend the day in the village. They were beat in the staff room by their father, very aggressively. This was followed the next day by pregnancy testing the entire form 4 class and any other female students suspected of also changing and spending the day in the village. These were just the obvious barriers in two days.
I will write again about barriers to education, but in the meantime if you are interested check out this human rights watch report all of these barriers and more are present at my school.
Reflecting on the discussion and the many other barriers I see to my students' success I found it sad that they could only critic themselves. It showed me, as I have noticed and lamented many times, that they carry the burden of education. They see their education and success as entirely their responsibility alone. While I admire their resolve, I wish they also understood how much is working against them so that they would understand how far they have come.
From early in PST (first 3 months in country which is training) I knew these two years in Peace Corps were going to be a struggle. Tanzanian culture values relationships while American culture values efficiency. In the US I felt guilty if I wasn’t busy or being productive. But I have always been the independent, planning, efficient person. From early in elementary school I wouldn't let my parents help me with my homework. The threat of getting help on a spelling test was enough motivation to do better on my spelling test, without any assistance.
While I tend to operate very directly, getting to the point and accomplishing the task at hand, I'm learning to slow down and value relationships. Even asking a simple question is preempted by greetings and pleasantries. Very few things are scheduled explicitly. When I need to discuss a project with a teacher I tell we need to talk about it and wait until we find a time when we are both free to do it. While attending early service training I spent a day planning. I was making flipcharts and writing session plans for upcoming sessions. My writing session plans means looking at past sessions and available resources and typing notes for the sessions and activities as I go. Meanwhile in the same room some of the Tanzanian staff were also making session plans. For them planning the sessions was spending the day discussing the topics. At the end of the day, about an hour before our daily debrief meeting they sat down with the minimal notes they had from their discussion and wrote out the session plan in one go. They had a conversation and only at the end put it into writing. Meanwhile I was working from writing and my own ideas and knowledge and writing more. We had two very different approaches to planning sessions and both of them work. While my session plans had detailed notes of all the information to be covered and additional information for anticipated questions, their session plans were a basic outline of the material to be covered knowing the material having discussed it that day. This will surprise no one who knows me, I much prefer my detailed notes. But I learned a lot from listening to and occasionally participating in their conversations that day and watching that become a session the next day.
These things still drive me crazy - the fact that the noahs (mini-vans which is my transportation back to my village from town) never leave on time, I continuously show up to meetings which never happen or start hours late and constantly make inquiries as to the progress of various projects to make sure they are not forgotten and find out if any progress has been made. In an ideal world I would have clear expectations for my job instead of going with what I think is best until someone tells me I need to do it differently. I would have a schedule that I can stick to and know will run on time. I would know that transportation to my vil leaves at x time every day and it would actually leave at that time and get back to my village in x time. I would like to know what exactly the district is looking for and expects when they come to inspect the school. But that's not the reality I live in and if I am honest that's never reality, even if western cultures are a lot closer. I have gotten used to it and more importantly I am learning a lot from this culture.
While many of these things and more are why I do not see myself living in Tanzania permanently, I am grateful to live in a culture which clashes with my core for a short period for the lessons and insights it has given me about myself. I am learning to create consistency for myself and how to use what feels like wasted time effectively (this includes a lot of reading while waiting for noahs or meetings or other things). I have made a morning routine for myself to start my day in a consistent way, even knowing that before long it will probably all be off schedule and plan. I learned to write notes rather than plan timed lessons because chances of me being able to teach the whole 80 minute period with no interruptions or need to explain background material or missing students are small. I have also learned how to make up for missed class time by leaving notes on the board while students are fetching water or gathering my students back before they leave to fetch water and having them sent later during a period without a teacher. These 20 months have been a constant lesson in self-motivation - what do I need to keep myself going even when it feels like that's the only thing going. I have learned to greet before anything else and to come at questions or problems by bringing up a related topic.
It's a new year and it's been a long time since I've posted so some updates on what's been going on here in Tanzania.
End of School - The Tanzania school year runs January to December. National examinations begin in early November for form 4 students (12th grade) and continue with form 2 (10th grade) afterward. At my school teachers write exams for forms 1 and 3 which are given at the same time as the form 2 national exam. Because of changes in school staff I wrote exams for both forms, even though I only taught form 3, and subsequently graded all 450 exams.
End of school is difficult because what I enjoy about my job is the actual teaching portion, but as exams begin there is little to no teaching time and all my time is spent writing and grading exams which is not my favorite task especially when most students fail as is the case for physics and math. Additionally many teachers beat students who fail when they pass back exams. So at the end of the year, or any term, I am more than ready for the break to recharge and get back in the classroom, the part of my job I love.
After grading all those exams it was time for traveling but relaxation would come a bit later. First I was off to Morogoro for the early service training for the new education class. Early service training is after 3 months at site. Volunteers come in having experienced life at site, getting settled at their schools, and with lots of questions. I had the priviledge of joining them for one week of early service training and an additional week of in-service training. For EST I arrived to facilitate Shika na Mikono sessions; Shika na Mikono is a group of volunteers who work to improve math and science resources especially how to use locally available resources to teach math and science in the rural schools most volunteers teach at. We taught sessions including best practices for teaching practicals (labs), techniques for teaching problem solving and critical thinking, lesson planning with demonstrations for counterparts, and math topics that are difficult to teach. I stayed the remainder of the week preparing for IST sessions and facilitating as requested in other EST sessions including scheme of work, exam writing, and project design and management.
I loved being part of EST. This class of volunteers are optimistic and grateful. At a time when I have been run down at site and frustrated with the realities there, it was awesome to be surrounded by the enthusiasm of new volunteers just getting ready to start projects and really dig into the work at site. I was there to teach but I think they did me more good in reviving my enthusiasm and inspiration.
After EST it was time for some vacation and relaxation. I spent a week on Pemba and then Christmas in Dar. The time to read and relax by the ocean and play games with friends was a much needed break and rejuvenation. Christmas in Dar went cooking in a real kitchen and more American food. After Christmas it was time to get headed back to site for new year's and the new school year.
New year's eve did not go as I planned, but is that not just how life works? I planned to do laundry in the morning and then spend the afternoon visiting friends and colleagues in the village. But instead I did not sleep last night and spent the day sleep deprived and nursing a headache. So I am spending new year's alone hoping tonight will be quieter and I can get some much needed sleep.
Happy new year! Stay tuned for the beginning of school, don't worry it will be a positive posts of what I am looking forward to in my second year here :)
My heart broke as I watched election results and reactions pour in yesterday morning (for me in Tanzania). Yes, my heart broke because this is not the result I wanted from the elections, not that I was particularly enthused about any outcome. But what pushed me to tears were the reactions on social media.
The results: My heart broke as I watched a candidate win who is a bully and who has threatened and put down so many groups of people - women, non-Christians especially Muslims, people of color, LGBT community, people with disabilities, immigrants, and so many more. My heart broke not because a candidate I did not and feel that I cannot support won the election. Democracy is not about my views or values but about the will of the country and in this election I disagree. But what would democracy be if we threw it out the window with an election we disagree with? I am upset because of the potential policies and legislation that could come out of this presidency, but I know our system has checks and balances and the president cannot act alone. What upset me most was the image. The person we have placed in a position to represent our entire country is misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, and more. People around the world see our president as a representation of Americans. Regardless of whether they know it's not reflective of all Americans, the image they have of all Americans primarily is our president and it makes me sick to know that in a few short months that image will be Donald Trump.
The reactions (the ugly): Initially my reaction to the reactions I saw on social media was anger. Many were upset by the results of the election. We all need time to process, to let these results sink in whether we are ecstatic with the results and hopeful of the change to come or disappointed, angry, heartbroken. Regardless of which side you fall on, your feelings are valid and you are allowed to express your opinion. But what I saw was not heartbreak or disappointment or just anger. What I saw was blame and hate of Trump voters and third-party/write in voters. What I saw was the election of Donald Trump was because of all you baby boomers, or third-party/write-in voters, or racist/sexist Trump voters, or the North Carolinians who support HB2. What I saw was the very same people who ended their "I voted post" with #lovetrumpshate spreading hate when the results of the election were not what they wanted.
In the midst of angry claims to unfriend (both on social media and in person) Trump supporters or third-party voters, I did not unfriend those who posted these hateful messages. Nor have I unfriended anyone during this campaign season. You have a right to your opinion and you have a right to your vote and for it to be for which candidate you think is best fit for the job. And you have a right to express that opinion. But what we do not have the right to do is blame and bully others for not agreeing with us. I did not and will not unfriend these people because while I may disagree and while I firmly believe that hate and blame are never the answer, having friends who disagree with me makes me a better human being. Because those people who disagree with me are not some statistical group. Some of them are friends and I want to understand where they are coming from and see them as human beings and friends as much as the friends I agree with. Because that human being on the other side is what makes me remember that the hate and blame I may want to place is hurting a human being, it is hurting a friend. Having those friends makes me a better person and helps me understand the issues better.
One of the great characteristics of human beings is resiliency. Whether it was this election or the election of Barack Obama or another president whom you disagree with the country survived that presidency. Of course the policies and actions of any presidency have consequences (both good and bad) but we survived. Chances are you don't hate everything enacted by the opposing political leadership. Our world is not black and white, even though we seem to have forced politics into being either red or blue. We may not have wanted Trump to win the presidency and we may not like what he represents or many of the policies and actions he will take in that role but we will survive. That fact of survival, of resiliency brings me hope. This too shall pass.
So as I start another day I hope that as the dust settles we remember that we are stronger together. I hope that we remember that both sides of any issue or political race are made up of human beings. I hope we remember the world is not black and white or red and blue but that we live in a grey/purple? area. I hope we remember to love one another.
I have officially been at site for over a year now and the beginning of this new year at site has had some rough changes. This time of year is rough anyway, little did we know first coming into site. After midterm exams and September break it's crunch time for exams including the national exams which determine whether students can continue in school or not and which job opportunities will be open to them.
Since I have been at my school the physics and math teachers have been me and a part time teacher who works at the teachers' college. So I have been teaching 2 forms and he has taught 2 forms which worked out to 3 classes each. But last week he got transferred so now it's just me. Being the end of the year this would not change anything except that national exams are coming up and form 4, which he taught, has a lab (we call them practicals) along with the written exam. The practical is supposed to be set up by the teacher. It's not difficult, I just don't have much spare time to figure out the practicals while trying to finish material with the 2 forms my teach and prepare one of those forms for their own national exam (without a practical).
Also last week my incredible counterpart got accepted to university and left this week for Dar to start his studies. Of course this is a great opportunity for him and I am excited for him. But disappointed that he won't be around as often. He has been the most helpful person on the planet any question or problem regardless of how small he has always immediately answered or been on top of it. I could not have asked for a better counterpart.
Add to these goodbyes improvements at school including a new teacher choo, working electricity, and computers - this next school year is going to be very different from my first year. On one hand I will be doing a lot more on my own without my counterpart to fall back on, obviously not alone because there are many other helpful teachers so not to worry. I will potentially be the only physics and math teacher next year because it is unlikely we will get another before the start of the new school year. I teach a more than full load right now and there are not enough periods in the schedule to teach all the classes now plus potentially an additional one since form 1 will likely have 2 streams but the graduating form 4 class only has one. But on the other hand also good - having been here a year I know what's going on and what's expected of me, I know my students and hope to follow them through my second year here, and with school computers I will no longer be the resident technology secretary (although there will be some teaching of computer skills).
All things considered I am looking forward to the year ahead. I enjoy teaching and for the rest of this school/calendar year I won't be doing much of that as students and teachers prepare for and take exams. Looking forward to spending my time at school actually teaching again. A new year will mean some new material as I follow form 3 up to their final year of secondary school but also teaching the same material again (either for form 3 or form 2 we shall see).
I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Singida region of Tanzania teaching high school math and physics.